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Editor’s Appointment: The Indo-Russian Link England’s first but not an English first

Updated: July 20, 2013 10:46 am

If overcrowding and pressure on jobs and welfare facilities are the criterion then it should equally apply to white immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. European Union common immigration policy is a fig leaf for keeping Britain white as it is for keeping Europe white

The recent announcement of the appointment of Amol Rajan as the first non-white editor of any national daily newspaper in England has been quietly noted with varying degrees of acceptance, even satisfaction, by the media. One perceptive non-white writer in The Guardian newspaper cautiously opened his column with the words: “Another milestone.” Perhaps a sign of improving race relations and perception of minorities in the country.

Coincidentally Calcutta-born Rajan’s appointment as the editor of The Independent comes rather close to the announcement of a British government pilot plan to slap a 3,000 pound (Indian Rs 2.7 lakh) conditional bond on top of the quite high visa fees for visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria
and Ghana—dubbed ‘High Risk’ countries—to tighten immigration control. The money, of course, would be returned to bond holders at the time of exit at the end of the visit or confiscated if they fail to return home.

This coincidence may appear to some as a fact of two-sided reality of Britain today. Improving chances of immigrants already settled in the UK with simultaneous pursuit of shutting the doors to non-white immigrants in the name of overcrowding ‘Little England’ and the larger European Union. The two sides of this reality are a contradiction in terms. If overcrowding and pressure on jobs and welfare facilities are the criterion then it should equally apply to white immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. European Union common immigration policy is a fig leaf for keeping Britain white as it is for keeping Europe white. In fact it is a contradiction within contradiction. On the one hand Britain is highly critical of European Union, even half threatening to quit EU, yet it is in full acceptance of EU’s anti-immigration policies. Keeping ‘Fort England’ or ‘Fort Europe’ white by separate or joint strategy is a full-blooded and hotly debated issue on its own.

Be that as it may, it is a side issue, though quite relevant, in the elevation of Rajan to the editor’s post at The Independent. His selection for the top post has more to do with his Russian connection than with his English
connection, even though he has lived in England since the age of three and has a Cambridge degree in
English Literature.

His induction as a journalist at The Independent was never a surprise as over the last forty years or so a steady trickle of non-white journalists, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, West Indians and others, have made inroads into provincial and national newsrooms and television outfits, recruited by British editors. Rajan, though first recruited as a reporter by the paper’s former (British) editor, Peter Kellner, was nominated to the editor’s post by Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born proprietor of The Independent, The Evening Standard and a clutch of other interests, including the London Live TV project. Apart from being a journalist, Rajan is known to be a member of Lebedev’s inner circle and his media adviser. That lends a new colour to the whole issue. The announcement of Rajan’s editorial elevation, in fact, came via the Twitter word by Lebedev, the billionaire son of a billionaire Russian business magnate.

His selection as editor, therefore, was made by the Russian immigrant and not by any English or British chief editor or proprietor. Clearly a case of one immigrant spotting another immigrant as both Rajan, just turned 30, and Lebedev, 33, arrived in the country as children and sort of bonded with each other. No English hand involved.

Papa Alexander Lebedev, apart from helping young Evgeny to the ownership of The Independent and other assets, is known for his own prowess. A former KGB officer once posted in London, hence the British connection, he is also the owner of a newspaper in Russia and like his son is very keen on investigative journalism. Currently, though, he is more in the news for throwing a punch at a guest on a television chat show, which attracted the charge of ‘hooliganism.’ To be branded a hooligan is a serious charge in Russia where he could end up in jail for five years besides falling out of favour with state authorities and the consequent impact on business assets worth billions of roubles or dollars.

Luckily for Papa Lebedev, the state prosecutor this week has asked the judge to reduce the charge of hooliganism motivated by ‘political hatred’ to a lesser charge of plain hooliganism and asking for a 21-month suspe-
nded sentence.

The case continues with the verdict still some weeks or months away. Meanwhile, writing in the family owned London’s Evening Standard Lebedev Junior has expressed great relief at the developments in Moscow:

“So Dad may not go to prison after all. This morning (28 June) the prosecutor in Moscow surprised us all by finally agreeing with what was rather obvious to everyone else concerned, that the punch my father threw on TV two years ago was not ‘politically motivated’ and withdrew the charge that might have jailed him. The latest development is a huge relief for all chez Lebedev but we have almost stopped being surprised by surprises as this process has gone on, descending yet further into farce.

“In Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s, at they made an effort to make the proceedings appear fair and honest (of course, subsequently it transpired that they weren’t). But now with complete lack of press reportage, the lack of diligence on the part of prosecution, the procession of eyewitnesses who weren’t actually there, for those supporters of my father who’ve been looking in from the outside, Russian justice must be a curious spectacle to take in. In any case, whatever the sentence Dad now faces, he and I are extremely grateful for all the support we have received, from London and all round the world.”

By Subhash Chopra from London

(The author is a London-based journalist)

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